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Back to the Drawing Board for Greece
International lenders and Greece will renegotiate the program on which the second financial bailout for Athens is based because the original has become outdated, according to a senior Eurozone official. Greece received a €130-billion bailout in February from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). General elections in May and June delayed the bailout’s implementation. The United States, the IMF’s largest member, supports discussions to review the Greek bailout program, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel countered that any relaxing of Greece’s reform promises is unacceptable.
“Anybody who would say that we need not, and cannot renegotiate the MoU (memo of understanding) is delusional, because he, or she, would be under the understanding that the whole program, the whole process, has remained completely on track ever since the weeks before the Greek first election,” the official said. “Because the economic situation has changed, the situation of tax receipts has changed, the rhythm of implementation of the milestones has changed, the rhythm of privatization has changed — if we were not to change the MoU –it does not work. We would be signing off on an illusion. So we have to sit down with our Greek colleagues and say: this is where we should be in July, and this is where we are in July, and there is a delta. Let’s find out what the delta is and then how to deal with the delta — that is a new MoU,” according to the official.
According to the official, representatives of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission will visit Greece as soon as a new government is in place to review the program’s implementation and prepare for negotiations. “It is no secret, quite logical in fact, that due to the time passed without a functioning government in place that can take the required decisions, because of this, there have been significant delays,” the official said. “The conclusion is that they have to engage in discussions on the memorandum of understanding and bring it back onto an even keel.”
Meanwhile at the G-20 summit in Mexico, leaders of the world’s most powerful economies say they have produced a coordinated global plan for job creation, which it calls the top priority in fighting the effects of the European economic crisis. The draft says “We are united in our resolve to promote growth and jobs.”
An editorial in the Australian Financial Review warns Europe not to misrepresent the issue. “The optimism that followed Greece’s election has proved to be short-lived as investors acknowledge the poll result doesn’t really change all that much in terms of Europe’s ongoing debt crisis. Less than a day after Greece pulled back from installing anti-austerity parties in office, European bond markets were once again in meltdown on concerns that Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland may need more financial aid to prevent default. The European Union’s financial ‘firewall’ is clearly not up to the task, with the yield on Spanish 10-year bonds soaring to a Euro-era high of 7.29 percent. In Athens, talks are under way to form a pro-EU coalition government between the center-right New Democracy party and the socialist Pasok party, reducing the likelihood of a near-term Greek exit from the Eurozone. Yet rather than insist that Athens stick to the tough conditions it agreed to as part of the EU’s €240 billion ($300 billion) rescue packages, there are signs that European leaders may again be preparing to fudge the issue. German Chancellor Angela Merkel insists that Athens must stick to its austerity commitments and that there is no room for compromise. But other European politicians are starting to talk about giving Greece more time to fix its problems. This appears to confirm the Greeks will never live up to their austerity conditions and that the exercise was all about kicking the can further down the road.”
Devaluation would be the optimal way for Greece to jump start its economy. Because that option is not on the table this time, achieving competitiveness is going to be much harder. One of the bailout’s stipulations requires the government to cut pensions, slash the number of public servants and control costs – in other words, the “austerity” option. Others prefer a program to stimulate growth and boost revenue, although one that would likely involve increased spending. This is the “growth” option. Angela Merkel favors austerity while French President Francois Hollande prefers the “growth” option. In this debate, the Germans are in control because they are the ones that are going to cough up the money. They have the ability to help because, contrary to most of Europe, they practice austerity and thrift. If German taxpayers are going to have to pay higher taxes to save nations like Greece, they think their European brothers and sisters should share some of the pain.
According to a Washington Post editorial, Germany and other creditworthy E.U. governments were right to tell Greeks before the election that they could not choose both the Euro and an end to austerity and reforms, as several populist parties were promising. Yet now that voters favored parties that supported the last bailout package, it’s time for Angela Merkel and other austerity hawks to make their own bow to reality. For Greece to stabilize, some easing of the terms of EU loans will be needed, at a minimum; an extension of deadlines for meeting government spending and deficit targets may also be necessary. Unless it can deliver such a relaxation, there is not much chance the new administration in Athens will be able to push through the huge reforms still needed to make the economy competitive, including privatizations, deregulation and public sector layoffs.
“In the end, a Greek slide into insolvency and an exit from the euro may still be unavoidable. That’s all the more reason why EU leaders must at last agree on decisive measures to shore up the rest of the currency zone, beginning with Spain and Italy. Measures under discussion for a summit meeting next week, including euro-area bank regulation, are positive but not sufficient. In the end, banks and governments must be provided with sufficient liquidity to restore confidence — something that will probably require the issuance of bonds backed by all Euro-area countries, or greatly increased lending by the European Central Bank. As German officials invariably point out, bailout measures will be wasted unless they are accompanied by significant structural reforms by debtor nations. But without monetary liquidity, and the chance for renewed growth, the Euro cannot be rescued.”